Forming a Single Congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership
A single congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership is formed either when two or more congregations of different denominations decide to merge or when two or more Churches (denominations) decide to plant a new congregation together.
It will have a common fund, administered by its Ecumenical Church Council (names for this vary),
and it may have more than one place of worship, especially in what is designated an Ecumenical Parish, but is still regarded for this purpose as a single congregation.
To be recognised as a LEP by its partner Churches, the LEP must complete its Model Governing Document (MGD).
When this has been approved, it may apply to the Charity Commission to become a registered charity if its normal annual income is over £100,000. Even if charity registration is not needed now, using the MGD means that the constitution will not need revision in future if the income increases or the £100,000 ceiling is lowered.
Most of the MGD is a standard text, approved by the Churches and the Charity Commission, which does not need any amendment.
The uniqueness and creativity of each LEP can be best expressed in its Ecumenical Vision Statement (EVS), a short document which describes the reasons behind the partnership and the vision which drives it forward. The MGD and the EVS will need to be submitted to the partner Churches for their approval and then adopted at an Annual Congregational Meeting of the LEP at which the members of the Ecumenical Church Council, who will become its Trustees if it is also to be a registered charity, are elected.
Before completing the MGD, it will be helpful to assemble the following information:
• Who is the County Ecumenical Development Officer of the Sponsoring Body for your county? Contact details can be found here. They should be kept fully informed of progress whether or not they are directly involved.
• Who are the Denominational Ecumenical Officers of the partner Churches? They will have a key rôle in gaining the approval of their Churches.
• What will the name of the LEP be? It is better to avoid names such as '…. United Church' (as if the LEP was a union of all the Christian Churches; it won't be) or '...Churches Together' (which is something different). It is also wise to avoid the name of one of the existing congregations as this might imply a take-over rather than a partnership.
• What will be the Area of Benefit, the geographical area where the LEP will operate? For LEPs involving the Church of England, this will normally be a parish or a conventional district. For others, it may be the area from which most of the members are drawn or the area which it regards as its own neighbourhood.
• Some Churches place great importance on the Congregational Meeting and expect it to meet frequently whereas for some others, an annual meeting is sufficient. Discuss which is right for your LEP. You may also wish to use this Memorandum of Understanding which is used by some Baptist Churches.
• The size of a normal Congregational Meeting and of its Ecumenical Church Council will vary. Decide the quora for them: a number of people or a proportion of the whole which is large enough to be representative of the whole congregation but not too large to be normally achievable.
• For an existing LEP, it may be that the congregations merged some years ago. The Schedule, the second part of the MGD, should include their names, even if they are such as 'the former Blogg Street Chapel'.
• Discuss how the ordained ministers serving the LEP will normally be chosen and appointed: will there be a rotation between the partner Churches, a free offering in a vacancy to a minister of any of the partner Churches (or wider), or will the appointed minister normally be from one of the partner Churches?
You are now ready to complete your MGD. When you open the document, the tab key (->|) will take you to the next text to complete. Don't worry for now about the second one, the date, as that can be completed when the Churches have given their approval and it will be the date of the Annual Congregational Meeting when the MGD is formally adopted.
If one of the partner Churches is the Church of England you may need a Memorandum of Understanding which clarifies the legal relationship between the Parochial Church Council and the Ecumenical Church Council created by the LEP.
The final step is to apply for charity registration. This can be done on the Charity Commission website here. It will need one of the proposed Trustees to be willing to be the correspondent with the Charity Commission and have their e-mail address published for anyone who wishes to contact the LEP. The completed MGD, but not the EVS, will need to be submitted as an attachment in Portable Document Format (PDF). A guide to the charity registration process can be downloaded here.
Now the real work begins, the work of transforming the world into the Kingdom of God, especially in this locality, by showing that our deep differences of principle need not divide us if we affirm the work of God in our diversity. As a registered charity, the LEP will be required to send its annual report to the Charity Commission and this should include an indication of its public benefit. No church should be a private club only for the benefit of its members and an ecumenical partnership has a particular commitment to the whole community which it seeks to benefit and the whole of the Church which it seeks to embody.